The Depraved-Heart Doctrine: From Baltimore to Bangui

05/04/2015 12:36 pm ET | Updated May 04, 2016

On March 29 Aicha Elbasri accepted the Ridenhour Truth-Telling Prize for 2015 at the National Press Club. Elbasri is the former spokesperson for the joint African Union/United Nations peacekeeping force in Darfur (UNAMID), and the truth she told concerned that mission. UNAMID is poorly trained and badly equipped, faces escalating and overwhelming violence, and does not (and cannot) protect the population under its care, and the UN is concealing all these problems in order to retain the favor of a genocidal government in Khartoum.

In short, Elbasri is a whistleblower who, after months of harassment, resigned from her job with the UN in order to expose the truth about UNAMID in Darfur. And, she pointed out, Darfur is only one of many forgotten wars in central Africa.

Her speech last week coincided with the uprising in Baltimore provoked by the death of Freddie Gray, an unarmed African-American man who made eye contact with a police officer and then ran from him. These combined acts resulted in Gray's death from injuries inflicted on him during an illegal arrest. Ultimately, the attorney general for the state of Maryland charged six officers in the case, one of them, Cesar Goodson Jr., with depraved-heart murder.

The charge is both serious and rare, but its definition -- the deliberate perpetration of a knowingly dangerous act with reckless and wanton unconcern and indifference about whether anyone is harmed or not -- is chilling. The depraved-heart doctrine rests on the legal logic that, beyond a certain point, carelessness reaches a level of negligence equivalent to criminal culpability.

The same week that Elbasri spoke in Washington and Baltimore went up in flames, UN peacekeeping sustained another blow to its credibility: The Guardian reported that refugee children were routinely sodomized and raped by French troops deployed in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR), under the authority of UN Security Council Resolution 2127. And like Elbasri, Anders Kompass, the UN staff member who told the truth about the crimes, was punished. On April 17 he was suspended by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva, where he worked.

Of all the UN officials involved in the sordid situation in the CAR -- those who sodomized the children, those who interviewed these victims, those who supervised the child molesters and those who saw the report and did nothing -- only the man who took immediate (effective) action to stop the abuse was penalized.

In a statement about the situation, a spokesman for Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the press that Kompass' action constituted "a serious breach of protocol," as if this were sufficient explanation for the suspension of the only UN official to take action in the face of pedophilia. To borrow a term from the Baltimore prosecutions, the secretary-general's statement betrays depravity.

The victims at Bangui were little boys; several were 9 years old, and they described their abusers in detail. Their accounts of what happened to them reveal that they were so innocent that they had no knowledge of what typically happens during a sex act. They were refugee children, forced by hunger and vulnerability to trust adults who were supposed to protect them but molested them instead.

Which brings to mind the depraved-heart doctrine with respect to the secretary-general and UN "protocols": reckless and wanton unconcern and indifference as to whether anyone is harmed or not.

It also raises the question: Exactly what are the protocols at the OHCHR for dealing with ongoing pedophilia? Typically, the OHCHR documents and reports. It's clear that in this situation, the faceless bureaucrats at Bangui followed protocol to the point of depravity. They documented and reported without regard for the perversity happening right in front of them to hungry children. Only Kompass took action.

In her speech last week in Washington, Elbasri sounded the alarm and made an assertion that linked Baltimore to Bangui: "Black lives matter in Africa too," she said. Just as there must be accountability for Freddie Gray, there must be accountability for the crimes committed in Africa by troops sent by the UN. Neither the secretary-general nor anyone else can hide behind the veil of protocol.

Bea Edwards is Executive & International Director of the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower-protection organization. She is also the author of The Rise of the American Corporate Security State.